An Admission of Failure

Annoying, isn’t it, and frustrating, when just as you think you’re beginning to get a handle on things, beginning to get the hang of things again, something happens to derail you, and you’re left feeling like utter rubbish. A Failure.

I haven’t attempted NaNoWriMo since 2011. This year I felt ready, in the zone, itching to fling a constant stream of words at the screen. And I began, and it was enjoyable. The story is utterly ridiculous, but it’s growing out of an idea I’ve had in my head, and various notebooks for a while now. And having spent most of this year editing and redrafting stuff, rather than writing from scratch, it felt so bloody GOOD to be flying free again.

And then I was ill. Felled for the best part of three days by a sore throat and a headache I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I fell behind. Not just on NaNo, but on everything. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Just as I’d finally found that tenuous balance, all the spinning plates came crashing down. Because, you see, owing to circumstances of Life, I am now operating as a single mother. And that’s fine, and as it needs to be. But, if things aren’t done, they remain not done until I do them. There is no one to pick up the day to day slack. And now I’m back on my feet, but setting all those plates spinning again is… hard. I feel paralysed. All I want to do is sleep. After years of not sleeping at all well, now I’ve gone the other way. And there are all those things to be done, waiting for me. Something’s got to give. Preferably not me. Not again. So NaNoWriMo, adieu, for this year. I know it’s all there, my writing, waiting for me. But oh, the frustration. There’s nothing like kicking yourself when you’re down, to compound the knowledge that you’re useless.

 

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Should do better

Procrastination is a well known condition for most writers. And I’m really very good at it; better, in fact, than I am at writing. Or so it seems, judging by my luck with submissions recently. And if I’m not good enough, why should I bother? Why not play just one more game of patience, make one more cup of coffee,  have half half an hour longer in bed? Procrastination is creeping into everything – in fact, since I started this oh so brief post, I have stopped to do something else more than a dozen times. I am procrastinating to the point of self-sabotage, to paralysis even. And it has got to stop, so I can start again. I want to be a writer again. So I MUST do better.

A moment of clarity.

It has been a while since I managed to complete even a first draft of a story. It is not that there is a dearth of ideas, far from it; I have several pieces that are waiting for me to able to get back to them, and several more waiting to be begun. But as I sit here in the near darkness, poring over my notebooks, it occurs to me that the problem is an existential one, and absolutely linked with my depression. It is not simply writers’ block, though <insert deity of choice> knows that’s bad enough. If the writer is no longer sure, absolutely sure, of who she is, what becomes of her voice?

The blog post where I forget why I walked into the room…

It’s been one of those days. Although I’d be hard pushed to tell you exactly why. But then, it has also been one of those fortnights. And I’m tired. I am so tired tonight that I almost feel drunk with it. But I’m ploughing on regardless. Why? Couldn’t tell you. Perhaps bloody-mindedness is a habit.

I’m stuck. There has been almost zero wordage achieved in the last two weeks, although four things have been given a final polish and sent out with a kiss and a cake to make their way in the world. One of them has already found a home with Ether Books again, a distinctly uncheery little number that I nevertheless enjoyed writing. (And if you want to look at it with the requisite application, it’s called The Day He Left. And it’s free. So why not risk it?) But I’m sanguine that the dearth of words won’t continue for long. Another two stories on the go, and then when they’re done, I’m almost certain that I’ll be ready to return to the Second Draft Monster. Almost certain…

The Sunday before last – May 27th –  I was doing this (I’m in the green dress). I was incredibly nervous beforehand, to the point of (very) mild hysteria as I sat in my seat, waiting to go on. I’m not unused to public speaking, I even trod the boards briefly in my days at a bricks and mortar university, but reading my own words to an attentive audience was a thing that daunted me. I felt very exposed. However, I was given some exceptionally good advice the evening before, which helped no end. You know who you are, and a thousand times THANK YOU. And yes, you were right, and I bloody loved it. It was a fabulous evening, a very hot evening, and a most diverting evening…

And I think that will do for now. There’ll be – unusually – another post tomorrow evening…

Dr Johnson

Dr Johnson’s dictum that if one is tired of London, one is tired of life, always springs to mind whenever I visit the city of my birth. It is an exhausting place, but I never tire of it; there is simply too much to see, and to do. And it always gives me something new to think about, especially when I get to visit without my daughter in tow. But of course, it is wonderful to be able to show the city to her, and see it afresh through her eyes, and remember how I too was taken around town as a child. And she will do the same with her children, one day. And so it goes.

But this weekend is about being the me who is not the mother. And today I have had the pleasure of going to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy, the hottest ticket in town this spring. I must confess to feeling indescribably smug as I walked past the hideously long queue, my ticket nonchalant in my fingertips… And the crowds inside were a fearful crush. But it was worth it. I was occasionally treated to a prolonged view of the side of a random stranger’s head, and there were of course, the usual personal space invaders (not to mention the chap who apparently came only for as prolonged a view of my cleavage as he could get away with. A charming smile and a flicked V-sign told him he’d been rumbled), and the ones who came, not to admire, or even appreciate the paintings, the sketches, the films, but rather to make loud display of their indifference. A good exhibition is worth the crush not only for the art, but for the opportunity of people-watching en masse. Call me cynical? That’s fine by me.

The landscapes were quite beautiful; the same lane, the same trees, visited and revisited through each seasonal change. The fall of light, the depth of shadows as they alter according to the time of day as well as the year’s progression; the changing tones of green, and the changing colours of the wildflowers of each season, all recorded and presented in the artist’s fearless way. The films made using 9 cameras mounted together on a grill and attached to a Land Rover were quite strangely powerful, particularly the winter films. The bare trees, the brilliant cold clear cleanness of the snow, and the pale blue blazing sky above, had a magic quite separate from the verdant glamour of the other seasons. And more than any other image, it made me long to be able to walk into it, and keep on walking. And that feeling was worth the crush alone.

Tomorrow I may possibly venture north of the city, to Highgate Cemetary. We’ll see…

Why I write.

There’s an abyss opening beneath my feet. This time however I’m prepared. I may be about to go down the rabbit hole of depression, but I’m taking a lamp, and a good strong rope with me. This time I’ll not be left lightless at the bottom. Third time’s the charm…

The darkness and doubt that depression entails cause me to question everything I think, and feel, and do. It’s exhausting, but I know that given time, I will return to the light, and to myself.

It occurred to me then that I’ve never really quantified why I write, even to myself. And I’ve thought about it, long and hard, when sleep has refused to be my friend. So. Why do I write?

For the longest time, when I was a lot younger, I had a feeling that I would do it, one day. There was of course, the obligatory bad teenage poetry, and a few short stories. I did not show them to anyone. Later, I burned them. They were a false start, I thought then.

By my mid-twenties, when I began to be happier, after my first – and worst – encounter with the abyss – I began to feel as if I was marking time, waiting for something else to happen first. I got the idea – I’ve no idea from where – that perhaps, after I’d had a child, I might begin to feel free to write. I mentioned this to several of my friends at the time; they urged me not to waste time, that having a child was only ever a complication for creativity. I did not believe them. I still don’t. Perhaps I only ever needed to give myself permission to write, but I honestly think that I simply was not ready, then.

When my daughter was two years old, I began to write. I was in the middle of studying for my degree, and the Open University was running a new course, a creative writing course. I did it, of course. And I found within me the fire of writing. Nothing compares to it. (Well, maybe one or two other things compare, but we won’t go into that here…)

Now I have to write. Have to. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing, no matter what else I may appear to be doing. (Again, there are one or two exceptions, but… you get the point. I don’t need to draw diagrams, or to spell it out.) Being in a position to write, and yet being unable to do so, is absolute hell. It’s like being stifled, unable to breathe.

Does that make any kind of real sense? It doesn’t feel rational, but it does feel vital, necessary. Writing, like love, is a form of divine madness. Not writing, is… unthinkable. Writing, like love, is an obsession. And when it goes well, it’s the best kind of fun, flying, not falling.

There are plenty of blogs out there, by better writers than me, on the connections between creativity, depression and madness. This one, for example.  And I am tremendously lucky in the friends I have, fellow travellers on the  writer’s road. We keep each other company, cheer each other on, commiserate, empathise, understand. If you want, you can visit some of their blogs – just scroll through the blogroll here. You will be amply rewarded.  So I’ll leave it there, I think, before I start spiralling.

So that was November…

It’s been a long 30 days and nights. Some of them have been quiet, some of them have been odd. Some have been really rather wonderful, in unexpected ways. Some have been productive, and some have been sad. And then there have been nights in Paris, and nights of partying too.

NaNoWriMo I have had to let fall by the wayside this year. There has simply been too much going on, in my head and in my world, and too many nights have been taken up with other things, largely of a celebratory nature. I managed to scrape together more than 38000 words, which isn’t too shabby. Plenty of material to be mined at a later date for any small gems that might therein be lurking. Or not. We’ll see…

In the middle of the month I went to Paris, for the first time. It certainly will not be the last! This just happened to coincide with my 40th birthday, a coincidence charmingly contrived by my husband. Being 40 is actually ok (much less traumatic than 30!) and Paris… oh but I fell head over heels in love with Paris. In fact I should very much like to run away there, and sooner rather than later… The weekend after my Parisian adventure, there was a sort of gathering chez moi, involving much chat, laughter, and booze. Friends whom I had not seen in an age came and made merry with me, and things did get a bit silly. There was also much worshipping of shoes

But then there was the sad news that Anne McCaffrey had died. She was my gateway into Science Fiction, as Tolkien was my gateway into epic Fantasy. I first read Dragonsong when I was 8 or 9 years old, and that was it; I was in thrall to the idea of a world where love could bind people and dragons into a bond so deep that only death could sever it (the fire lizards were also particularly appealing). From Pern to her other novels – Restoree, and The Ship Who Sang in particular – these were a formative part of my reading experience, and my emotional development in the transition from little girl to early adolescence. I wrote to Anne when I was 14, I think, asking her all sorts of questions – I cannot remember them now – and she wrote back. We developed a small correspondence; she was incredibly generous in that way, and it is my lasting regret that her letters disappeared somewhere during the peregrinations of my early twenties. I cried, bitterly, over her death. She was a wise and warm human being, and she is missed.

And now it is December, and beyond knowing that for the first time in years I am not going to be called upon to provide a huge lunch on the 25th, I really haven’t begun to get organised yet. Time to start making lists then. And a Master List.